Professor Xiaoyu Cao, from Xiamen University in China, said that the Chemical Science paper was the result of seven years of research, and follows a 2014 publication in RSC journal Chemical Society Reviews.
Cao said: "To refer to catalysed assembly processes, we suggested a new term: "catassembly". We envisioned catassembly is important to molecular assembly, just as catalysis to chemical reaction."
Molecular assembly can be regarded as multi-step non-covalent synthesis, creating complex molecular systems to bridge the gap between molecules and life systems. However, most molecular assembly processes involve mainly the building blocks, and any artificial “catalysis” counterparts are rare.
And while other research has shown that chiral cages are effective catalysts for covalent reactions, this is the first demonstration of their effectiveness for supramolecular polymerisation.
"This piece of research proves that catassembly can be an efficient way to develop artificial molecular systems, and will increase researchers’ interests to discover more catassembly processes in life sciences, developing artificial, sophisticated, and more functional molecular systems. It may interest researchers in nanotechnology, biotechnology, and functional materials," Cao added.
In the Chemical Science paper, the team demonstrated this using acid-stable chiral imine cages to catalyse the supramolecular polymerisation of TPPS (tetrakis(4-sulfonatophenyl)-porphyrin)) as a representative non-covalent assembly system.
Cao hopes that this will attract more attention to the catassembler, thus providing an alternative approach to manipulating and modulating the complex molecular systems which can be used in nano- and micro-fabrication.